Friday, 15 August 2008
Oh I do like to be beside the seaside no brass band required to play tiddly om pom pom
I have not seen the sea for three months, I am beginning to feel the need. Summer holidays and no seaside to mark it seems distinctly sad. Seeing the sea was an annual prerequisite when I was a child, even if only on a day trip. I lived in the Midlands so I understood rivers and canals, I understood what it felt like to be surrounded by land but the sea was always something extraordinary. I still can’t go over the rise of a hill without expecting to see the sea from the top as this was my first embedded sight of the sea. Seaside of course came with all the razzmatazz of ice-creams, fun fairs, donkeys, sandcastles, shops that sold everything you may need on a beach. It was, however, the actually sea that excited me. The tide was a mystery no matter how much my father tried to explain about phases of the moon and gravitational pulls it only succeeded in deepening the mystery of why the sea came out and in. The sea always seemed to breathe to my childhood psyche, out and in, very slowly, like some great animal. I still don’t fully grasp how tides work, the change of times, equinoxes etc.
I haven’t seen the sea since early May, not long by my childhood calendar as then I only saw it once a year. I nearly drowned when I was six, I fell off a small pier in Devon in a place called Beer (for ever afterwards my Dad would joke that I nearly drowned in Beer and laugh heartily). My father dived in and rescued me whilst my mother (who was unable to swim) waded in up to her waist until a local fisherman stopped her as two people drowning, he pointed out, was not advisable. All I recall is being the centre of attention on the beach when I was pulled out and a doctor, holidaying there, declaring me fit for purpose once I had thrown up copious amounts of salt water. I have never held this incident against the sea, but it has deepened my respect for it. There is an old superstition, usually amongst people whose livelihood and well being depended on the sea that there is a duty not to save the drowning man. The drowning person is seen as a sacrifice to be paid, a propitiation of the sea gods. It was believed that if someone is rescued from the sea it will claim the rescuer at some point. My Dad never drowned and three cheers for the National Lifeboat Institution. I always give money to them on their flag days, a sort of small propitiation of my own.
Of course what I reflect on now is also that both my parents were willing to risk their own lives to save me. What ever the arguments and problems that may have occurred later in tempestuous teenage years that was always a baseline, their knee jerk reaction was to save me whatever the consequences. You can’t expect more than that from a parent.
I’m hoping to see the sea later in the month, just for a day, Brighton..posh seaside not rock pool wild or working class stick of rock seaside but it will suffice. Last time I was there I watched a huge muscular seagull swoop down on a woman’s bag of chips and neatly take them out of her hand; he almost had a grin on his face, if beaks can grin. Of course the other superstition is that seagulls hold the souls of those lost at sea. A superstition used by David Harsent in this poem from his wonderful collection Legion.
If I had drowned in Devon, I like to think I would have subsequently enjoyed stealing chips from unsuspecting holiday makers.